Why SimCity Needs Subways

I live in New York City. Everyday I ride the subway to work; most people here do. I haven't owned a car in 10 years. I live the densest large city in America, one full of massive skyscrapers, immense culture and people of every race, culture and creed.

Which is why SimCity is so confusing to me: It's a city game without any subways.

I grew up playing SimCity 2000. In many ways, it was a game that shaped what I thought an ideal big city should be and psychologically prepared me for the experience of living in one. The most efficiently made cities in that game followed so many of the conventions I would later find here — The grid system, the emphasis on population density, and above all the idea that public transit is key to making any city grow and function well. Look hard enough, and you'll find the DNA of New York City in SimCity 2000.

The new SimCity is not a game about big cities. It's not a game about making London or New York or Paris or Tokyo. SimCity is a game about the complex ecosystems that exist between medium size cities and towns, about urban and suburban sprawl. It's a game that I've really grown to enjoy.

But it needs subways.

Part of the problem is the roads. In the new SimCity, the roads dictate the maximum density of your buildings; the idea being that more traffic allows for more growth. And while this is true a lot of the time, life doesn't always work that way in a sprawling metropolis where space is at a premium. If that were the case, then the Financial District in New York, with all it's tiny, one way side-streets, would still be full of tiny Dutch buildings.

Ideologically, much of SimCity feels rooted in the failed legacy of infamous New York City urban planner Robert Moses. Moses believed that highways and suburban commuting were the key to urban growth. Saying once of his plan to bulldoze big parts of lower Manhattan to make way for a 10-lane super-highway "We simply repeat, that cities are created by and for traffic. A city without traffic is a ghost town". Moses was rebuked, the highway was never built, and history has since vindicated his opponents.

Subways are essentially a space-saving hack. They encourage density without causing clutter, and unlike trolley-cars and busses they're not beholden to the ebb and flow of traffic. It's the reason why so many of the most psychotically dense cities ever built in the history of the SimCity franchise have no roads, existing exclusively on subways. It's also why only about 54% of people in this city even have cars and why even fewer commute with them.

I'm not saying that subways are ideal or that focusing on building density creates a world that is somehow magically happier. I'm not saying New York City's design is without flaws (believe me, there are many) or even that there is such a thing as a perfect city: Part of the thing that works so well in SimCity the very idea that no city is without it's pros and cons. What I am saying is that statistically more and more people are abandoning the sprawl of the suburbs in favour of living in giant cities — that a growing population is choosing to live in urban areas rather than being tethered to the perpetually rising price of gas.

A game called SimCity should be capable of reflecting that.

I'm aware that there are trolley cars and busses in the game, but that's not the point. One of the most basic, core impulses in any simulation is the desire to create a simulacrum - a proxy of a thing either real or fictional. The continued success of Minecraft is proof positive of that basic truth. But in it's current state, with it's small plots of land and lack of subways, I can't recreate the place I've chosen to call my home. Not only that, I can't make anything remotely resembling it.

All I want from SimCity is New York and New York is nothing without its subways.


Comments

    Coming soon: Subways DLC

      You know thats exactly what they're going to do right? There's *no* way it was left out by accident.

        I'd like to think I was just being funny, but we all know it's going to happen.

      Yeah, like they may do with an Urban Renewal Kit and a Terrain Editor. The lack of a terrain editor was a big miss for me. I want to be able to make a perfectly flat map damnit! And a gigantic forrest just begging to catch fire.

    If you want to recreate New York you need Sim City 4 and it's many mods.

    It supports massive maps based on real height data, large cities side-by-side, replica buildings, terraforming and more transport options than you'll ever need.

    This guy is years ahead of you though: http://nycj.blogspot.com.au/

      This. I went off sim city 4 after a while because it was so complicated (and a bit buggy) but I'm finding the latest sim city isn't even as complicated as 2000 (which had the best music in the whole franchise).

    Oh, aha, thanks to the misleading image I had read "Why Kotaku Needs Subways"
    Come to think about it, I would definitely get on a subway that doesn't stop by Bashcraft.

    This article doesn't work for Australia. Nearly everyone here thinks roads are the answer.

      and tunnels!

      Any ways, yeah I thought the absence of underground subways was weird but quickly came to realise it'll probably be DLC or some crap like that. I don't have the game yet myself, but really want it once they've fixed the inter-city interactions. The whole region thing doesn't bother me, I just think of it as one city being one district of like Tokyo or Seoul and that the region itself is greater Tokyo/Seoul if I want the metropolitan feel. Having said that, I definitely do believe the individual cities themselves could do with a size increase, and perhaps the distance between the bordering cities could be reduced to achieve the district effect mentioned above.

      Last edited 14/03/13 9:39 pm

    Current version cant even handle the streetcar very well, failing to pickup passengers, routing to wrong stops, queuing up for no reasons, etc etc
    Its pointless to have subway if pickup,queue algorithm doesnt get fixed anytime soon.

      As public transport only user in melb, this sounds like an extremely accurate simulation

    Bad, roads.. Crappy public transports. Traffic flow is a bad joke.. Tiny restricted cities.
    You know, I never really put two and two together before now.
    Sim City isn't London, New York etc. Its Perth, Western Australia!!

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